1761 Michael Rauche Guittar Restoration (2023)

Instrument Description

Maker's signature - body/neck heel
"Preston Maker" stamp - head/neck heel

This guittar by Michael Rauche, dated 1761, has no interior maker's label but is signed on the back near the heel of the neck, "Rauche / in Chandos Street / London. 1761." However, the back of the headstock is stamped "PRESTON MAKER / LONDON" surmounted by the John Preston "JP" (or "JR") crowned logo, suggesting that at least the neck was provided by the Preston workshop. 

The back and sides, each of one piece, are flamed maple or sycamore. The front is of two pieces of unidentified softwood. The instrument's body is notably larger than the signed Michael Rauche guittar from 1764 that I had an opportunity to restore in 2021though that instrument did not have a Preston-stamped neck. 

Brass alloy on peghead finial.
Tuning posts, showing holes - treble side.
Tuning posts, lack holes - bass side.

The guittar has a brass alloy metal flower that covers the square end of the peghead finial. The metal is fairly thin, suggesting that it was stamped and pressed into shape from a plate of materials as opposed to being cast. 

The nut was disposed for ten strings in six courses, the highest four doubled, and it has a watch-key tuning system. 

The watch-key tuning mechanism is of brass, engraved with a single letter "M" (or upside down "W"), matching those of several other extant guittars. 

The tuning posts are all cut with three slots, one on the near side and two on the far size. The treble side tuning posts are also provided with a hole, while the bass side ones are not.

Inspection & Condition Report

Crack on treble side of back
Lateral concavity along the back 
Condition of the fingerboard and decoration

In its initial state, the guittar was not in any way playable. An outward examination of the instrument revealed that the back was cracked in two places (first photo); the soundboard was cracked in three places and partially separated along the center joint; the back was concave (middle photo) and had come unglued from the sides in several spots; the decorative fingerboard edging was mostly missing, the ebony fingerboard edging had broken free, the tortoise shell veneer had come unglued in several areas, and the frets were protruding from the sides of the fingerboard, possibly due to shrinkage of the wood over time (third photo). Additionally, the soundboard was sunken due to the belly bars having come unglued. The strings were unplayable, as they were touching all along the fingerboard due to the sunken soundboard, and possibly due to the neck angle shifting over time.

Soundboard interior - initial condition
Back interior - initial condition

Upon removing the back, an interior examination of the instrument revealed several loose bars on the front and evidence of a regluing of the diagonal bar on the treble side of the soundhole, as can be seen by a remainder of glue on the soundboard (glossy area, first photo). Additionally, the triangular piece supporting the end of the reglued diagonal bar was missinga possible reason for the collapse of the bar and subsequent need for regluing. Remnants of previous wooden supports for a rose could also be seen around the soundhole. 

On the back, the uppermost bar came free with very little coaxing, having come unglued for the majority of its length, while the other two back bars were unglued along their edges and partially loose along their lengths. The glue that could be seen at the back / back bar joints was very dry and brittle. A couple of glue drips on the inside of the back suggested that the repair to the diagonal soundboard bar may have been done through the soundhole with the back in place. Whether this was cause for the removal of the rose or whether the rose had long since been gone is unclear. 

One thing that was apparent, though, is that the instrument had not been opened for quite some timeif ever, as the interior was extremely filthy (as can be seen by contrast with some of the later photos), and the layers of dirt may have represented an accumulation since the creation of the instrument. 

Interior: Repair & Restoration

Soundboard interior - post repair (but prior to rose installation)
Back interior - post repair

The first step in the restoration was to clean the interior of any loose surface dirt. Areas to be repaired or reglued, such as where the the soundboard cracks needed to be cleated or where bars had to be reglued (such as the small bar immediately below the soundhole or all of the back bars) were cleaned extra thoroughly in order to be ready for the application of fresh glue. I tried not to clean any more than necessary, and I did not attempt to remove the extra glue from the prior repair, especially since the repair seemed to have held well. 

Cracks were glued and cleats were installed over the soundboard cracks and the center joint, loose bars were given extra glue under their ends and carefully clamped, and a replacement for the missing triangular side support for the end of the diagonal treble bar was installed. 

For the back, all three back bars were removed, all old glue was cleaned from the back and bars, and the bars were reglued. In addition, the back cracks were glued where possible and reinforced with linen cloth. A repair label was glued to the back in an unobtrusive locationthough this was later removed and a new one installed to north of the upper bar for greater visibility after the decision had been made to complete a reconstruction of the rose.

Rose Reconstruction

Rose - interior view
Rose - exterior view

Prior to the instrument's back being glued back in place, I eventually constructed and installed a replacement rose in what was likely the original style. (A full step-by-step account of the reconstruction can be seen here.) Each of the original softwood supports for the original rose were removed from around the interior of the soundhole, and new ones were created. The application of the ones in the 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock positions was particularly tricky, since cleats to keep the center joint closed had already been installed before a decision to replace the rose had been made. 

Interior: Observations

In the process of cleaning and regluing, I was able to make several interesting observations on the interior: 

Evidence of toothing plane marks. Screw used on the body/neck joint.
Back liners let into edges of neck block.
Interior barring and supports, bass side(The main bar is oriented vertically in the image.)
Interior barring and supports, treble side. (The main bar is oriented vertically in the image.)

Exterior: Repair & Restoration

Fingerboard - tortoise shell veneer before regluing
Fingerboard - ebony edging before regluing

As mentioned above in the condition report, the fingerboard was in poor repair. The existing (original?) frets, which were gouged in places and protruding extensively from the side of the fingerboard, were removed carefully so as not to break the ebony edging or tortoise shell veneer. The remnants of ivory decoration were also removed at this time. I carefully reglued the tortoise shell veneers without disrupting or removing the red paint below the veneer. Next, I reglued the ebony fingerboard edging and cleaned each of the fret slots.

Fingerboard refretting - in process
Fingerboard refretting - complete

Because the fingeboard is no longer perfectly level and cannot be levelled due to the tortoise shell veneer, modern fret wire will not work, as it is not always tall enough to accommodate the inconsistencies in the board. Instead, I hand-fashioned each fret but cutting strips from brass plate of the thickness matching that of the fret slot and bending them to a radius matching the fingerboard (in this case, close to 4.5"). Each fret was rubbed with fresh garlic and glued with hide glue, using an old recipe for gluing metal. (The components in the garlic apparently etch the metal on a microscopic level and allow for better wetting.)  This method was chosen for its reversibility, in the event that the frets ever need to be removed or replaced. The frets were then carefully levelled with a series of large diamond stone sharpening plates, evening out the inconsistencies in the fingerboard so that no fret was too low.

Fingerboard decoration - original state
Fingerboard decoration - replacement (not glued)
Nut & fingerboard decoration - original state
Nut & fingerboard decoration, capo - replacement

The prior bone or ivory fingerboard decoration was almost entirely missing from the end of the fingerboard and was broken and poorly fitted near the nut.  I removed the remaining pieces, made a paper rubbing of the design cut into the tortoise shell, then created replacements from thin veneers of bison bone. The original nut was replaced with bone as well, as the customer wished for the guittar to be fitted with 7 courses. (See more, below.) In addition, I fashioned a new capo out of bone padded with leather, using a modern brass screw and thumbwheel.

Bridge - original condition (with top of modern fret wire)
Bridge - replacement with bone top

The ebony bridge as I received it appears to have been original but later modified. The top of the bridge had been slotted and fitted with a large modern fret wire, which was then grooved to guide the strings. Traces of grooves in the top of the ebony (under the fret wire) suggest that they may have been the original string grooves. The original bridge was too low to be used with the current neck angle without adding risers to the bottom of the bridge feet. Instead, I fashioned a new, taller bridge of ebony and topped it with a strip of bone, like many of the originals. I weighed the original bridge, which came in at 97 grains. The replacement came in at 98 grains.

Original hitch pins and strap button
Original hitch pins and strap button plus replacement pin in Tagua nut

Though there were ten of the eleven original ivory hitch pins surviving for the ten strings I needed to accommodate, the missing one was in a location I needed for the first course. Though I could have moved one of the others, I opted instead to create a turned replacement from Tagua nut ("vegetable ivory").  The image above shows it before a little color was added to help it match the others better.

String Disposition: Six to Seven Courses

Fingerboard diagrams from Bremner 1758 (left) and Geminiani 1760 (right)

The guittar's owner wanted to explore if it could be converted to a seven course instrument. While the norm for guittars seems to have been to have ten strings in six courses, several guittars with eleven strings in seven courses have survived, including at least two by Rauche (one bowl backed, one standard), one by Prior, one keyed guittar by Preston, and one anonymous keyed guittar (Poulopoulos 2011, note 634). Since Rauche was known to have made seven course guittars, and since this instrument was fitted with eleven hitch pins and had its capo holes even more off center, the idea of fitting it for seven courses seemed not out of the question. However, the fact that the watch-key tuning system had a provision for ten strings meant that a compromise would need to be made.

While the typical disposition of strings was two single basses with the remaining four courses doubled, this was not set in stone, and other arrangements are known both in surviving instruments and images from the time (Poulopoulos 2011, pp. 358-9). The guittar tutors by Bremner (1758) and Geminiani (1760) both depict fingerboards with three single basses and three doubled treble courses. Since there was historical precedent for having only the top three courses doubled, I arranged the strings at the nut and bridge for four single bass courses and three doubled treble courses.

The eventual tuning employed was c-e-g-c'-e'-g' with a low G on the seventh course. The lowest four courses have been strung with silver-wound steel core strings, the third course with plain brass, and the top two courses with plain iron/steel.

Exterior: Observations

Nut end of fingerboard, showing (glue filled) hollow groove
Far end of fingerboard, showing hollow groove


This guittar restoration gave me the opportunity to examine and document some unusual aspects of guittar construction and set up. 

I have taken complete measurements of this guittar, and I am in the process of finalizing a drawing of the instrument and its components, which will eventually be found here for purchase. I am also in the process of writing a fuller account that details the differences between this 1761 Rauche and the 1764 Rauche that I restored in 2021.

Only selected photos were shown here. A full photo album with high resolution images can be found here.